Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorization which allows F-1 students to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience. You may be entitled to up to 12* months of optional practical training per educational level. If a student begins a new academic program at a higher level, the student is eligible for another 12 months of OPT.
*Or up to 29 months if you are a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math major.
Please note that Optional Practical Training requires authorization from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which typically takes 3 months to obtain. We recommend that you apply 3-4 months before you wish to begin employment.
To be eligible for optional practical training, you must:
- have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year,
- currently be maintaining a full-time program of study and valid F-1 status, and
- intend to work in a job directly related to your major field of study.
A job offer is not required to be eligible for or to apply for OPT, but the student is expected to work or and to report the name and address of employer as soon as employment has been secured and whenever there is a change of employment.
Please note that students in English language training programs are not eligible for practical training. If you are uncertain whether you meet the eligibility requirements, please meet with Mrs. Ann Burkhead.
Two Types of Optional Practical Training
Pre-Completion OPT (Before completion of studies)
- During the school year: Students may apply for part-time optional practical training which permits them to work up to 20 hours per week. Part-time OPT is deducted from the 12/29 month limit at 50%. Thus, 2 months of part-time OPT would count as 1 month deduction from the available 12/29 months.
- During vacation periods: OPT may be either part-time or full-time.
Post-Completion OPT (After completion of studies)
- After completion of the degree: OPT must be full-time (but you may work part-time or full-time).
- Post-Completion OPT Deadlines:
Students may apply up to 120 days before completion of studies and 30 days after completion of studies.
If you intend to travel abroad around the time you will complete your studies, you must apply for OPT before you leave the United States. Remember to apply in advance, 3-4 months before the requested start date of OPT. If you depart the US after you complete your studies and have not applied for OPT, you are no longer eligible to apply.
Overview of the Application Process
Step One: Student requests an I-20 recommending OPT from Crossroads/ISS. I-20 processing time is two business days.
Step Two: Student mails a completed application to USCIS. USCIS processing time is typically 2-3 months.
Step One: Student requests an I-20 recommending OPT from Crossroads/ISS
Complete the OPT I-20 Request Form:
- Read through the entire information packet, including Frequently Asked Questions.
- Complete the student section of the OPT I-20 Request Form.
- Submit the completed request form to Crossroads/ISS.
- Pick up your new OPT I-20 at the Crossroads/ISS Office.
You may request an OPT I-20 by either:
- Drop off: If you have read the information packet and do not have any questions, you may drop off the OPT I-20 Request Form with Mrs. Burkhead.
- See Mrs. Burkhead: If you have read the information packet but still have questions, you can meet with Mrs. Burkhead and then submit your OPT I-20 Request Form. We recommend you bring your immigration documents and application materials with you.
You may need to see Mrs. Burkhead if you are:
- unsure which OPT dates to select
- unsure of your completion date
- recently returned to Geneva after taking a leave
- considering a second degree at the same educational level (i.e. a second Bachelor’s degree)
Step Two: Student mails a completed application to USCIS.
- Once you have received your I-20 recommending OPT from Crossroads/ISS, you must mail all the items on the application materials checklist to USCIS.
- If you have any questions or would like your materials reviewed before mailing, you can meet with Mrs Burkhead.
- Make a complete copy of your application for your records.
- Mail your application to USCIS by Federal Express or by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, so you will have a record of its delivery.
- USCIS will send you a receipt notice, typically within one month.
- Once your application is approved, you will receive an approval card (EAD) in the mail from USCIS.
Link to the USCIS Web site checklist.
Selecting OPT Start and End Dates
List the dates you actually intend to work. Your start date should be the earliest date that you could possibly begin work. Your end date should be the latest day that you could possibly work.
If you are applying for post-completion OPT, you are given a 60-day grace period following the completion date of your studies. You must apply for OPT before completing your studies but you may request that OPT begin as late as the end of the 60-day grace period. Therefore, for post-completion OPT, the beginning date must be between the day after completion of studies and the end of the 60-day grace period.
Post-completion OPT may be authorized for any period of time you request, up to the maximum amount of OPT you have remaining at the time of completion. If you have not previously used any Optional Practical Training you may request the full 12/29 months after completion of your program. If you have used any pre-completion training OPT, this amount is deducted from the 12/29 month total. In most cases, a student will apply for the full amount of post-completion OPT time he or she is eligible for, unless s/he plans to study at the same educational level and wants to reserve some OPT time for the second degree. Remember, if you return to study at a higher education level, you will be eligible for another period of OPT.
OPT Application Materials
- Completed USCIS Form I-765 (available at http://www.uscis.gov/i-765) Please follow the I-765 "Special Instructions."
- A personal check or money order for $380 (I-765 filing fee) payable to: "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." A personal check is preferable because you will be able to determine when it is cashed.
- OPT I-20, endorsed with an original signature by Mrs. Burkhead and signed by student in item #11.
- 1 photocopy of the front and back of ALL previously issued I-20s. Include photocopies of all other I-20's, including pre-SEVIS I-20s, dating back to your initial entry to the US in F-1 status. Remember, each I-20 must have your signature in item #11. (If you have questions about which I-20s should be submitted, you should speak with an advisor prior to mailing your application to USCIS).
- 1 photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card (white card, usually stapled in your passport).
- 1 photocopy of the passport information page (including your photo and passport extensions if they are on different pages).
- 1 photocopy of the F-1 visa stamp page in your passport (except Canadian citizens).
- 1 photocopy front and back of any previously issued Employment Authorization Cards (EAD).
- 2 identical color passport style photographs, immigration regulations also require that you not wear jewelry in the photograph and that your head be uncovered unless you wear a headdress for religious reasons. Passport photos can be obtained at Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, and the Post Office. Print your name lightly in pencil on the back of the photos. See attached photo sample and composition checklist. For more information on photo standards, visit: http://travel.state.gov/passport/guide/composition/composition_874.html.
Make a complete copy of your application for your records. Crossroads/ISS does not maintain copies of OPT applications.
Mail your completed application to the USCIS Service Center which has jurisdiction over the address you listed on the I-765 in Item 3.
The Vermont Service Center has jurisdiction over the following states:
- District of Columbia
- Maine, Maryland
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
- Vermont, Virgin Islands
- West Virginia
If the state you put on form I-765 in item 3 is not in this list, please contact Crossroads/ISS.
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
E-Notification: If you want to receive an e-mail and/or a text message that your Form I-765 has been accepted at a USCIS Lockbox facility, complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance and clip it to the first page of your application.
We recommend that you mail your application by Federal Express Mail or by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, so you will have a record of its delivery.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the earliest I can apply for Optional Practical Training?
You may apply as early as 120 days (4 months) before the date you request your OPT to begin.
When must I apply for OPT?
Post-completion OPT: You may apply up to 120 days before completion of studies and 30 days after completion of studies.
If you intend to travel abroad around the time you will complete your studies, you must apply for post-completion OPT before you leave the United States. Consult with ISS if you intend to travel abroad during this time.
Pre-completion OPT: You should apply 3-4 months before the date you wish to begin employment.
What is my completion date?
The "completion date" refers to the date that your degree requirements are completed (as verified by your academic advisor). This may not necessarily be the same as the "official" college graduation ceremony date.
For most undergraduates and master's students without a thesis requirement, the completion of studies date is the May, August or December graduation date that follows your last term of full-time enrollment.
If you are a graduate student, check with your advisor about choosing an earlier completion date such as your thesis submission date.
What happens after I mail my application?
Usually within approximately one month, USCIS will mail a receipt to you at the address listed on Form I-765. Full processing of the OPT application materials is likely to take up to 90 days. Upon approval, USCIS will mail your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the same address you provided on form I-765.
You may not begin employment before you receive your EAD and the start date on the card has been reached. Working before receipt of your EAD constitutes illegal employment that renders you illegally present in the US.
What if my address changes while my OPT is still pending?
If you change your address before your receipt and/or card are issued, you must notify USCIS. We also recommend you inform Mrs Burkhead.
How can I check the status of my application?
Once you receive a notice from USCIS confirming receipt of your application, you can check the status at: https://egov.immigration.gov/cris/jsps/ (Use the EAC number located in the top left of the receipt notice). Alternatively, USCIS prints the EAC number on the back of your check once it is cashed. You may be able to obtain a copy of your check from your bank.
Can I travel on practical training?
You should not experience difficulty reentering the United States if you have all the items listed below:
- a valid passport,
- a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (except Canadian citizens),
- your OPT I-20 endorsed for reentry by Mrs. Burkhead within the last six months,
- your valid practical training EAD issued by USCIS, and
- evidence of employment such as a job offer or employment verification letter.
If you do not have all of these documents listed above or plan to leave the US while your OPT application is pending with USCIS, you should consult with Mrs. Burkhead before travel abroad. For more information, see: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/travel/faq_f2.htm.
Please note: Your EAD will have a notation, "not valid for reentry to US". This is printed on all EAD cards issued for OPT and simply means that the card alone is not sufficient for reentry to the US.
Pre-Completion (i.e. summer) OPT:
You can travel and return to the US with a valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp and your OPT I-20 endorsed by Mrs. Burkhead within the last twelve months. You do not need evidence of a job or a valid EAD issued by USCIS to return to the US.
Do I still need to notify USCIS if my address changes while on post-completion OPT?
Can I change my OPT dates or cancel OPT if I do not get a job?
Once your application has been received by USCIS, Crossroads/ISS cannot cancel or change your OPT dates for you. If you want to try to withdraw your OPT application after you have sent it to USCIS, you will need to submit a written request to them directly. Please consult with Crossroads/ISS for more information. We advise that you carefully choose your dates and consider your job prospects before applying for OPT, since canceling your application may be difficult or impossible to do. An unexpected delay in completing degree requirements, inability to find an appropriate job or loss of a job does not allow you to take back or adjust practical training authorization even if this means you will lose time when you would otherwise have been eligible to work under Optional Practical Training. Remember you must report the name and address of your employer to Mrs. Burkhead. As DSO, she is required to enter the information into SEVIS (Student & Exchange Visitor Information System).
Do I need a Social Security Number to work in the US?
Yes. If you plan to work in the US you will need a valid Social Security Number (SSN). Your Geneva ID is not a valid Social Security Number. To apply, please obtain instructions and directions to the Social Security Office from Crossroads/ISS. The Social Security Administration will process your application and mail your Social Security number to you.
Do I need to complete any forms with my employer to begin working?
Yes. Within the first three days of beginning work you and your employer must complete a form entitled Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9). This form will be kept on file by your employer and must be updated each time you receive a renewal of your work permission. Your employer will provide this form and assist you in its completion.
Can I change employers while on OPT?
Yes. OPT work authorization is not job-specific. Therefore, you may change employers, or have multiple employers at the same time, provided that each position is directly related to your major field of study and commensurate with your educational level. Please notify Mrs. Burkhead with names and addresses of new employer.
Do I pay taxes while working on OPT?
Students in F-1 status are subject to all federal, state and local taxes that may apply. Check with the Crossroads/ISS office for more tax information and to see if your country is one of the few that has a tax treaty with the US allowing students to exclude a limited amount of earned income from federal taxation. You may also be able to treat a period of post-completion practical training as an extended business trip and substantially reduce your federal taxes by deducting "travel expenses" (amounts for housing, transportation and a per diem food allowance) from your income. (You should consult an accountant or tax attorney to see if you can deduct travel expenses in your circumstances. Crossroads/ISS cannot provide this type of individual tax assistance.)
In general, however, F-1 students who have been present in the US for no more than five calendar years are exempt from Social Security (FICA) and Medicare taxes. Be sure to bring this to the attention of your employer, as many employers are unfamiliar with this provision of the tax laws. If you need more information about the F-1 Social Security and Medicare tax exemption, please contact Crossroads/ISS.
How long can I stay in the US after the end date of my OPT?
You have a 60 day grace period after the end of your OPT. You are not authorized to work nor can you leave and reenter the US in F-1 status during the grace period.
What should I do if I want to begin a new program of study in the US when I finish my OPT?
You must contact Crossroads/ISS and tell us what school you plan to attend and when your new program of study will begin. (This is also true if you are returning to Geneva to begin a new program. We are not likely to know unless you tell us.) We must then "release" your F-1 SEVIS record to your new school within 60 days of the end of your OPT (or update your SEVIS record for a new Geneva program). If you fail to notify ISS of your plans to begin a new program of study before the end of your 60-day grace period, your F-1 SEVIS record is likely to become invalid and may cause immigration problems for you.
IMPORTANT Final Note: Failure to comply with employment regulations
It is your responsibility to comply with all immigration regulations which apply to F-1 students, including employment regulations. Working without proper authorization is a serious violation of your student status. If you fail to comply with your responsibilities, you may not be eligible for benefits normally granted to F-1 students and, in some situations, may be subject to deportation. Prior to accepting any employment in the US, we strongly urge you to consult with ISS if you have any questions.
I-765 Special Instructions
USCIS Form I-765 is available at: http://www.uscis.gov/i-765.
PRINT LEGIBLY. The information you write on this form will appear on your card and will ensure proper receipt through the US mail. Check the first box "permission to accept employment", fill out lines 1-16 and sign in "certification" box.
#1: Print your name as it appears on your immigration documents (passport, I-20, etc.).
#3: US Address: Use an address where you can receive mail for the next 3-4 months.
The US Postal Service will not forward USCIS mail even if you change your address with the US Postal Service. It may be difficult to change your address with USCIS after they have received your application. If the card is sent to an address with a forwarding order, or if you cannot receive mail at the address indicated, your card will be returned to the immigration service and destroyed. If you are using a friend or relative's address, be sure to write c/o (name of friend or relative) on line #3 preceding their address.
Consult Crossroads/ISS if the address you will be using is not located in Pennsylvania or one of the states listed in the Mailing Instructions.
#10: I-94 Number: Write the 11-digit number on your I-94 card (small white card in your passport).
#11: Answer "yes" only if you have previously applied for an EAD.
#14 & 15: F-1 Student, unless you have applied for a change of status to F-1 since your last entry to the US
Foreign Students: The eligibility code for an F-1 student seeking optional practical training (OPT) has been changed.
The eligibility code (c)(3)(i) will no longer be used and has been replaced with the following three codes: (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT, (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT, and (c)(3)(C) for a 17-month extension for an F-1 student who has received a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM), that appears on the STEM designated Degree Program List published on the SEVP website available through the Related Links on this page.
If you are a STEM student requesting 17-month extension of your currently authorized optional practical training, you must also submit a copy of your degree reflecting the conferred degree as well as your major field of study. In addition, the employer with whom you are seeking the 17-month OPT extension must be registered in E-Verify. Accordingly, you must list the employer's E-Verify Company Identification Number or a valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number in Item 17 of the Form I-765. Please refer to the section on Foreign Students in the form instructions.
The eligibility codes (c)(3)(ii) and (c)(3)(iii) are unchanged and remain in use.
Certification: Remember to sign and date form I-765
Don't forget to make a copy of this form along with all the items you send to USCIS for your records.